I have pretty much given up trying to write my sermons early in the week. Way back at the start of last week, as you may remember, our principal concerns centered on whether or not a war was imminent between North Korea and the United States. All we had to worry about back then, it seemed, was whether or not our president would actually start a nuclear exchange with North Korea. Later in the week, it seemed the Russia probe was gaining steam and that dominated our concerns for a few days. But none of that prepared us for this weekend. So once again I find myself writing a sermon late Saturday night.
The violence and hatred which surfaced in Charlottesville this weekend requires a clear and thoughtful response from anyone who claims to be a Christian, much less a Christian preacher. I shouldn’t have to say this, but for the record, white supremacy is not a Christian value.
If anything, white supremacy – along with anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, Muslim phobia, and hatred of immigrants –all of this hatred is nothing more than a demonic obsession. Look at the faces of those yelling “Jews will not replace us!” – what you see in them is a demonic obsession.
So to be clear: if you hate your brother or sister, you are not following Jesus, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re hating them because their skin is a different color or they’re Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or recent arrivals in this country. Hatred is not a Christian family value.
We also shouldn’t have to call out our national leaders for giving a free pass to white supremacists to gather in our cities to spout hate. But we do. The white supremacists did not go to Charlottesville to peacefully protest – they came ready to go to battle: they were wearing helmets, carrying shields, and armed with clubs. In the 21st century, who brings a shield to a peaceful rally? Only someone who wants to use it in pitched battle. And someone who wants to look more than a little foolish,
Helmets, shields, and clubs are not signs of people who are prepared to peacefully demonstrate under our Constitutional protection of free speech. Not to mention those in full military gear and carrying firearms, up to and including assault rifles. Our freedom of speech does not include physically intimidating those who disagree with us.
On Friday night, word spread on the internet that a church full of people who were opposed to white supremacy was surrounded by white supremacists carrying baseball bats and tiki torches. Apparently, Home Depot tiki torches are the new emblem of the far right. These reports brought to mind a night not so long ago when it civil rights leaders in the Deep South were trapped in the church all night long, surrounded by the Ku Klux Klan, and threatened with annihilation. The main difference between the Ku Klux Klan of the 60s and the white supremacist Nazis of the day, he’s the today’s haters do not feel the need to wear robes. With Trump in the White House, they are emboldened to show their face and their hate. As former KKK leader David Duke said this weekend, the votes of white supremacists helped put Trump in the White House. Of course, he wouldn’t condemn them by name.
I’d hoped we come farther than this – then realizing that the main difference between now and then is that those who believe in white supremacy are empowered by the current president to go around protesting without their White hats and robes.
Yesterday was a difficult day. Our Diocesan family gathered in Grace Cathedral to say goodbye to The Reverend Stephanie Schatz, who served as our Bishop’s Canon to the ordinary. Stephanie was a great friend to Saint Cyprian’s and a wonderful Mentor for all of the clergy in this diocese. Her love and caring for those of us who are vicars in this diocese was truly amazing. Our Senior Warden Bruno Peguese. Ms. Adrian Williams, our Subdeacon Sandra Manning, our Deacon Marcus, my husband, and I along with our Vicar Emeritus Will Scott and his husband Matthew were among those who gathered at Grace Cathedral to say goodbye to Canon Stefani. As we left, news of the horrific violence in Charlottesville gathered like storm clouds in the distance.
This morning, after that storm of hatred and violence has broken, we know that one person died at the hands of a white supremacist who drove his car correctly into a crowd of counter-protesters. Another 19 counter protesters were injured in this vicious attack. Two state police officer who had been working through that terrible day died in the crash of their helicopter. Three dead in Charlottesville.
Some are already saying that this driver should be excused because of his youth, or because of his difficult life, or because he’s white and white people aren’t terrorists. Except when they are terrorists, except when they drive their car into a crowd of people who oppose white supremacy. The truth is, white nationalist and supremacists, have killed more Americans than Muslim “terrorists.’ The truth is all of the restrictions on immigration in the world won’t protect us from native born American white terrorism. The truth is, that if the situation had been reversed and a young black man in Tesla drove a car into a crowd of KKK members, all hell would have broken loose. We must not allow the color of the accused to mitigate the seriousness of this issue. We cannot continue to pretend that the only terrorists attacking America are people of color, especially when it’s so clear that the greatest threat to our democracy comes from All White Alt Right.
Yet this realization is not a sufficient Christian response to yesterday’s violence and the shocking display of white supremacy and nationalism. Our country defeated the Nazis in the Second World War, now we must do that again. Today’s scripture offers an interesting perspective on the fight ahead.
In our first lesson, we hear of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob. You know the story – the favorite son, the one who got the rainbow coat of many colors, is hated by his siblings and sold into slavery. “Here comes the dreamer,” they said, “come now, let us kill him in and throw him into one of the pits, then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and then we shall see what will become of his dreams.” How that resonates today as we realize that many who forced free Africans into slavery were their own brother Africans. This is how generations of Africans lost their freedom and their dreams.
But our Psalm says the Lord took Joseph out of slavery, moving the king to set Joseph free and make him ruler of all the king’s possessions. That is the promise of our faith, that those who are downtrodden will be lifted up and placed in the seat of power to do justice and show mercy.
In our second reading, Saint Paul weighs into the question of whether good works or firm Faith are more important to Salvation. You see, in Judaism people are called to do good works, or mitzvahs. A mitzvah is something that will please God. You don’t do the mitzvah because it’s just a good thing. You do the mitzvah to please God, because pleasing God is a sign of a good relationship with God. And remember our God formed Adam and Eve because God was lonesome, God wants us to be in relationship with him.
So I think that what Paul is saying here is that it’s not enough just to do good deeds, you have to do good deeds to improve your relationship with God. You have to want to please God with your daily actions. Clearly, this understanding must shape our response to those who hate and hurt.
Finally, we have this wonderful gospel story about walking on water. Now I don’t know if Jesus really walked on water. Perhaps there was a sandbar. Perhaps they were Stones just beneath the surface that he could walk on. It doesn’t matter that’s not the point. The point of this story is to talk about faith. Hear this good news again: the disciples are in a boat which is being tossed around and Jesus walks on the water out to them. They’re afraid – they think he’s a ghost. But Jesus says don’t be afraid it’s just me. And Peter – always one to try and get a leg up – says “if it’s really you Jesus, then let me walk on the water out to” and Jesus says fine. And for the first few steps, Peter is fine. But then he takes his eye off the prize and falters – and Jesus has to come and pull him back to the surface.
The meaning of the story isn’t about magic. Jesus isn’t a wizard. He doesn’t tell us this story to impress us with his magical powers. He didn’t go around sawing people in half and then waving a wand to put them back together. His miracle stories are about something much more important than a Vegas act.
Jesus tells us this story to help us understand the importance of trusting in God and keeping your eye on the prize. He’s telling us to trust in God to heal us, to help us through these difficult days, make us whole. Jesus is saying we have to be fully present in the moment and do the right thing. Today that’s about speaking out in opposition to white supremacy and all the other groups the Nazis hate. It’s about being a real Christian. And being a real Christain is, for most of us, about being part of a Christain community – a community like St. Cyprian’s.
If we don’t live out what Jesus calls us to do, if we don’t live like Jesus lived, then we’re not real Christians. If we don’t follow the authentic spiritual path of early Christians by forming our spiritual life in community, then we are not walking the way of the real Jesus. And we need real Christians right here and right now. We need them to revive to revive our country, to surround hate with love, and heal the hurt caused by “Christians who hate.”
This week we also learned that America’s opioid addiction problem has reached crisis levels across our country. Soon the president will declare a national to combat this epidemic of drug abuse. We also learned this week that one in eight Americans are addicted to alcohol. Why is addiction such a huge problem in this country? Could it be that we no longer have hope for a better tomorrow? Could it be that for all our technological advances, we have lost the community that binds us together? Could be that in our hearts we are lonely, tired, overworked, under loud, and afraid? Do we and our neighbors have a hole in our heart that can not be filled by a text message, an email, or a Facebook post?
Could we here at the corner of Turk and Lyon extend our community of love and respect out into this neighborhood in a way that would begin to address some of the pain that surrounds us? If so how? These are some of the questions we must address in the days and weeks ahead as we work to wipe the stain of white supremacy away, as we free clean Jesus from those who hate, as we remake the American dream to have a place for all our people. Today is but one new step toward that goal.
Let us pray:
Through the storms of life, O God, you are with your people in the person of Jesus your Son. Calm our fears and strengthen our faith that we may never doubt his presence among us but proclaim that he is your Son, risen from the dead, living for ever and ever. May God’s people say Amen.
From today at St. Cyprian’s: Prayers for Charlottesville and Our Nation
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. We pray for our nation in this dark time of hatred and fear spread by the demonic idea of white supremacy. In particular, we pray for the people of Charlottesville, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and these United States of America. We pray for those wounded in the conflict this weekend, for the healers. For the witnesses, for the warriors, and for those who have died. We pray for the families and friends of those who have been injured or killed, asking that your loving kindness guide them through this difficult time of loss. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront the evils that best this land and to wipe away the pernicious stain of racism, antisemitism, homophobia, hatred of Transgender people, bias against Muslims, and all cruelty toward immigrants, as we act in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.